“We were just talking to him then -- boom -- a confrontation started,” Kevin Laird, a former loss prevention manager at the Best Buy on Walton Way Extension, testified Monday during the trial of the suspected shoplifter, Tracey Attaway.
On Nov. 26, Laird and other employees say they confronted Attaway as he attempted to stuff a laptop down his pants. Attaway was calm for a minute, then knocked an employee, Tommy Walker, to the floor as he tried to make his escape.
The two scuffled briefly, knocking over displays and bumping into customers until onlookers screamed, “Oh my God, he’s got a knife.”
“I automatically backed away from him ... for my protection,” Walker said.
Attaway immediately cleared a path through the crowd and loss prevention officers when he brandished a folding knife with a4-inch blade, witnesses testified. Attaway literally ran out of his shoes in his sprint to the door and was almost free. But waiting in the breezeway between the double doors was a group of Marines collecting donations for Toys for Tots.
What happened next changed a simple shoplifting to “an armed attack on a man who serves our country,” Assistant District Attorney Adam King said in his opening statement to jurors.
Marine Sgt. Phillip Duggan, a reservist, was among the Marines in the breezeway, and he grabbed Attaway as he fled. Dr. Patrick Youssef witnessed the events while browsing near the returns section and testified Monday that Attaway stabbed Duggan in the back as he tried to get out of the door. Youssef said it was deliberate action. Duggan is expected to testify this morning.
Attaway’s attorney, Lee Prescott, told jurors Monday that his client doesn’t deny shoplifting. Besides the laptop, arresting officers said they found $1,300 worth of electronics, including cameras, inside Attaway’s clothing.
But “this is far and away from what the state is trying to make it,” Prescott said.
Surveillance camera footage from that day only shows Attaway tearing apart the laptop box and Best Buy staff confronting him. It stops short of the scuffle with loss prevention, and there’s no video evidence of the incident that injured Duggan.
Before trial began Monday, Prescott made one last effort to negotiate a plea with the prosecution. Prescott sought a reduced charge of felony shoplifting instead of armed robbery, along with a reduction in the aggravated assault charge.
King demurred, saying pulling out a knife while stealing items from a store is “textbook” armed robbery.